Yesterday marked somewhat of an unusual landmark for me. It was the first time since the birth of my son that I have seen a film in the theater for three straight weeks in a row (it will be four if I make it to next week’s Film Courage Interactive). This is significant in that ever since I could drive I have seen at least one film a week in a movie theater. I love going to the movies and the reasons I no longer make it out as frequently are not because I spend too much time on the internet, playing video games or that the theatrical experience is bad (which it is), it’s simply because at this stage in my life it isn’t as convenient. I still go as often as possible, I just have to be more selective.
During these recent trips something occurred to me as I watched the previews, all ten thousand of them that preceded each film. Of all those films I had to look forward to, there was only one that aroused my interest enough to make me think: “I have to see that yesterday!” That film was the first part of the final films in the Harry Potter angst-ridden boy wizard series. I have seen only two of the prior films in theaters. I enjoyed the books but find them utterly forgettable, yet my desire to see this film is high. Feel free to speculate as to why this is, but what interested me most is all the other films previewed. As I watched one after the other I mentally cataloged each: 1) Must See 2) Rental 3) Seriously, do they really think people want to see this shit? Going to the theater is as much of a choice about content as it is about experience.
The future and viability of the theatrical window is always the subject of morbid speculation. How long does it have left? How many more gimmicks like 3D can they attach to its dying body to keep it alive longer? The fact is that the theatrical window will see a decline but not because people aren’t willing to go to the theaters. Do you know how expensive it is to take a family to the movies? It’s about as much as my bar tab*. Even faced with this expense families pile into theaters every time a kid-friendly film arrives. And just like I did, those kids will fall in love with the experience and they will return again and again. As long as there is something that compels them to.
Any reason you could give me why people won’t go to the theaters will more than likely be valid, but the fact is that people do go to the theater and they must like it because they do have other options to see a film. Many people are willing to wait. The thing is, nobody ever says – “Damn, are you telling me I have to go to the theater to see that? Oh well, I guess since there is no other way to see this film in my lifetime I will have to make this tremendous sacrifice.” People aren’t stupid. Well, that stupid. People still pay to see Katherine Heigl movies and she has scientifically been proven to be awful.
Granted, theaters must improve the experience if they want to extend their life expectancy. They need to keep the prices reasonable (Hey AMC – charging $3 extra for an “E” ticket to a film in a theater with good projection and sound is truly awful marketing. Shouldn’t that be ALL of your theaters?) and accept that short windows are the new reality. Distributors need to better leverage marketing costs, choose carefully what needs to go to theaters and not make decisions too hastily that could unnecessarily kill their theatrical markets. Independent filmmakers have always had a tough fight to get their films into the theatrical arena, and maybe it just isn’t right for most films from an economic standpoint, but if the audience for your film is there, they will see it in a theater. You are just going to have to work your ass off to get them there.
Seeing a film in the theater can be a special thing. Viewing our film “The Waterhole” at the high-end Arclight in Hollywood was one of my proudest moments. I suspect that when the Harry Potter finale reaches theaters it will be a tremendous success, maybe even breaking records. There are many things I dislike about going to the theater, but if you create a story I really want to see, you can bet I will be there and I will not be alone.
*Alas, in reality I never get to go to bars anymore either.